People power holds the key to Abu Dhabi's Economic Vision 2030

Abu Dhabi has boldly set out its ambitions and it is time to start making those plans take shape. Investment is at the foundation, but so too is human capital.

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – April 16 , 2013 : Visitors at the Abu Dhabi 2030 stall at the Cityscape in Abu Dhabi. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Business. Story by Lucy Barnard
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With just two years to go until the halfway point, Abu Dhabi's ambitious Economic Vision 2030 is moving from the strategy setting phase to practical implementation. Having invested in a bright vision and strategy for the emirate, the focus now needs to shift to the question of how it will be accomplished. It is at this point that the people element becomes paramount.

Organisations and people cannot grow independently of one another. To turn the vision into reality, Abu Dhabi must work to ensure that people are developing at the same speed as investment in the bigger picture. By aligning these two elements in a stable pace of change, the workforce will develop in tandem with the economy and the overall vision for the UAE.

Experience has taught us that organisations can develop world- class strategies but that they will only be as effective as the people who are charged with making it happen. To accomplish what the vision sets out to achieve, the emirate must have a clear understanding of values, leadership principles and behaviours that need to be embedded within its people. These need to be as clear and defined as the list of economic priorities laid out in the Economic Vision 2030.

During a time of change, growth or evolution, whether it be at an organisational or national level, it is the people that dictate the pace of change. By equipping people with the right attitudes and behaviours, their energy and commitment will help to achieve the emirate's vision. The type of initiatives that can instil the right behaviours and attitudes in the workplace are plenty. They include the measurement of leadership competencies, provision of coaching and development programmes, ensuring the right people are in the right roles, succession planning and working to build engagement and improve communication. All of these actions help people to develop an appetite for change, growth and ultimately development of Abu Dhabi in line with its vision.

Skills and knowledge levels are black and white: clear development plans can be put in place; but what lies below, behavioural characteristics, are twice as important as cognitive ability and account for more than 85 per cent of high performance in top leaders globally. The intangible human element is the make or break factor in many large-scale developments.

For example, leadership style is inherently tied to, and a great influence on, behaviour in the workplace, which does have unique characteristics in the Middle East. Research from 2005 to 2008 covering more than 1,000 leaders in the region highlighted the prevalence of coercive leadership (which is about gaining immediate compliance) and called for more visionary and authoritative leadership to share the bigger picture and direction with employees.

The same research repeated for the 2009 to 2012 period shows that leaders in the Middle East have in fact become even more coercive in the past four years: the coercive style showed a growth of 10 per cent. Perhaps in light of the global financial crisis and the ripples that were felt here in the UAE, leaders have taken back control. Now that the economy is in a new cycle of growth and the economic context is different, leaders need to change their behaviour, step back and allow employees more freedom to flourish.

To build capability and an enabled workforce, the emphasis needs to be on delegation, giving people some room to innovate, giving them opportunities for growth, to try different things and make some mistakes. Leaders now need to make focused investments and this is not restricted to processes, systems and controls but human capital too.

Focusing on the right behaviours is the crux of the matter: setting clear goals, measuring progress, and being held accountable lead to high performance. This is achievable by constant two-way communication, coaching, mentoring and recognition. Key performance indicators in the workplace should include behavioural qualities as well as job accountabilities and measurement of skills levels.

The recently announced Abu Dhabi financial plan which spans 2013 to 2017 provides an opportunity to reflect what has been achieved so far and how the people element will be key in delivering the longer-term vision. To be a global leader, Abu Dhabi needs engaged, talented and enabled people who can perform in their jobs. The right attitudes and behaviours need to be embedded within the fabric of the workforce. These will manifest themselves in values, leadership principles and behaviours of people at work and how they go about achieving what they set out to do.

The vision for Abu Dhabi is ambitious. The emirate is aiming to achieve an incredible amount of progress within one generation, meaning there is a need to fast- track the development of people as well as the economy, and that insufficient investment in the workforce could act as a brake to the pace of development. For the vision to be achieved, Abu Dhabi needs a highly skilled, motivated and enabled workforce with the attitudes and behaviours to match.

Khaldoun Jandali is a consultant at Hay Group in the Middle East